Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Crossing

   We crossed over at the Sheikh Hussein Crossing, a drive North from Amman through the green-flecked beige expanse of rocky hillsides. Daoud’s man Selim came with us to smooth the process of crossing the border. The queue at the Jordanian checkpoint snaked back from the barbed wire fences and the scattering of low buildings and concrete barriers marking the crossing point. The Jordanian soldiers were thorough and suspicious as they searched the car and checked our documents. We were finally waved through. I found the whole process unnerving, bracing myself for the infamous Israeli checkpoint. I was already jittery passing though the Jordanian side, fear making me gabble nervously and point out silly things around us. I looked across at Aisha, but she seemed lost in her own thoughts. I noticed she was gripping the door handle.
   ‘Are you okay?’
   Her smile was taut as she shook her head. ‘I never like this very much. Sorry.’
Olives, Page 155

Today, I’m very proud indeed to welcome a guest post by the woman behind the delightful Ussa Nabulsiyeh (A Nabulsi Story) blog, Sara Refai. A volunteer teaching in Nablus, Sara is a former colleague and dear friend. She also writes like a dream. Here are her thoughts on ‘the crossing’...

Click, clack, click, clack. My foot bounces from side to side and I mirror its movements with my head.

Bored. Change it up. Clickety clack clack, clickety clack clack.

Seven hours at Allenby Crossing will do that to you. 

I hoped it would be easier the second time around. Maybe it was. I was nauseous for weeks before I left Amman for the West Bank the first time. This time I was less apprehensive; knowing what to expect, but just as anxious.

My teaching position in Nablus was my livelihood. I had no plan B if I didn’t get in.

Some people are turned away because they are known activists. Some are turned away because of their Palestinian roots. Others, because their IDF soldier-cum-customs agent had a bad day.

Roll the dice, smile big and hope they don’t pay too much attention to your Google search results.

I look longingly at the recently vacated seats beside me. They were probably half way to Ramallah now. Surrounded by bare walls and an uninteresting floor, you notice if the people originally behind you in the queue are allowed through as you watch them with envy. 

On the Jordanian side the process is boring, but it’s not intimidating. Nicotine stained Jordanian officials smile and chat with you despite the tedious waiting around. You pass your luggage through sagging X-ray machines and face the difference between the foreigners’ terminal and the vastly more crowded and chaotic terminal for those only holding Arab passports.

The bus ride through No Man’s Land could be considered picturesque with its dry, expansive, wasteland appearance. The Jordan River will literally trickle under the non descript bridge that takes you out of Jordan.

My head snaps up as I hear someone call my name. An agent from the Israeli Ministry of Interior is waving my passport and looking around the waiting area.

I jump up – forever optimistic that this could be the last round of questions.

The questions never change, but the faces do. A different person for every round. Polite, probing and questioning your presence. Looking for the lie, waiting for the mistake.

You first present your passport at the entrance of Allenby after being relieved of your luggage by the Arab baggage handlers. It’s like the scene of a fish market – loud, crowded, hot and confusing. A long winding line leads to the first security check. You approach the window and are questioned by the IDF soldier that sits behind it.

What are you doing here? How long will you stay? Why are you here?

On to  x-rays for hand luggage and extra searches.

Do you speak Arabic? What religion are you?

Another soldier points you to the appropriate queue.

The queue is interminable. Soldiers take their time and investigate every potential question mark. Their job is not to smooth over the process and save time;  their job is to examine every detail of every story they come across.

If there is the slightest question mark, you are sent to the waiting area. Where I am currently sitting. To wait. Maybe an hour. Maybe 10. 

I focus my now tiny attention span back to the sun glassed face in front of me.

“So, are you less nervous this time?” mid-thirties and tanned. In another life he could be a surfer.

“Why?” I respond, wrong footed.

“Last year you were very nervous. At least that’s what you said on your blog.”

“Ah…yes, well… no, not really.”


More questions and another  two hour wait before I am questioned again and reseated.
It takes literally 30 seconds to cross Allenby. To talk it from entrance to exit. It was seven hours before I was wordlessly handed back my passport.

I open it. Stamped.

Safe. Until next time.

(Thanks to @youseftuqan for the snap of the Israeli side of the crossing)
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  1. I remember we spoke about the "apprehension" and not having a Plan B in Beirut before you left... :-)

  2. My heart sank when he mentioned your blog. Beautiful post.

  3. haha yeah me too!! I was like 'maaaannn....' I checked my stats later and it seemed like he only read one post. They Google almost everyone now I think.

    Mich I remember that day so well. It is nerve wracking and incredibly unpleasant.

    Thank you girls :) :)